After over a decade of graft Margo Price finds herself in the country music limelight. She chats to ANDY WELCH
Such is the synergy between the genre and pouring one’s heart out, there’s a song to suit almost any emotion - just look at the titles. There’s Johnny Cash’s Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart, Gary Stewart’s She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Double), Deana Carter’s Did I Shave My Legs For This?
Country songs have a habit of laying on the emotional disasters a bit thick. Maybe therein lies their secret - how better to cheer yourself up than listening to someone even worse off than you? - but it also raises suspicion that lots of it’s completely made up for artistic effect.
Listening to Margo Price’s debut album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, and the same sneaking feeling creeps up.
“When I rolled out of town on the unpaved road, I was 57 dollars from being broke,” she sings on opening track Hands Of Time. “Kissed my mama and my sisters and I said goodbye, and with my suitcase packed I wiped the tears from my eyes.”
The song goes on to detail how her father lost the family farm when she was two, and she spent her teenage years dreaming of making enough money to buy it back. Eventually, she moved to the city to follow her ambition of becoming a country star - and after settling down with a married man, had a couple of babies and started living off the land.
“But my firstborn died and I cried out to God, is there anybody out there looking down on me at all?”
All this within the first three verses.
And it’s all absolutely true.
“I think everyone loves an underdog,” says 33-year-old Price, when asked if her life story has helped draw fans to her music.
“I think I’m relatable; I’m a working-class, down-to-earth person, and the music translates that. I think I’m pretty honest too, and people appreciate that. I’m not trying to lie about where I come from and things that have happened to me, there’s no act. It is what it is.”
Price’s story - farm repossession, rocky relationships, marriage, death of a child and subsequent struggle with drink - could quite easily be taken from a character in an old George Jones or Waylon Jennings song. It’s easy to forget she’s had to live this tale, and it’s more than just a backstory to entice listeners.
“Most of the time I’m OK with it, as long as people are getting the story straight. Sometimes, people will write that I had a DUI (driving under the influence charge), but I didn’t. It was a misdemeanour,” she adds with a laugh, before getting serious for a moment.
“Some days I can talk about the details of my life, and it’s all I want to talk about. Other days, I want to talk about anything but. Some days are harder than others, but it’s my life and I am happy to share. Especially if it helps someone else.”
She might be new to the spotlight, but Price has been plugging away, playing her songs around her adopted home of Nashville (she was born in Buffalo Prairie, Illinois), for more than a decade.
She always wanted to make a living from her songs, but toyed with photography and dance tuition when it looked like her the music might never take off.
“I can do those things but I never really had the same passion for them,” she admits. “I loved the idea of performing my songs for people, but also the travel. That was contagious, from the first time I toured, I knew it was for me.”
She first got a sense things were finally going her way when, about two years ago, the editor of Rolling Stone Country showed up at one of her gigs.
“He started writing some articles about me and there was a bit of a buzz around me from there, locally and a bit further afield.”
At this point, she didn’t have a manager or publicist, and was simply doing what she’d always done, playing her songs as she always had.
“The world changed, not me,” she says. “I think people want something a little more authentic, and I guess that works in my favour.”
Price was signed to Jack White’s label, Third Man - but only after she’d recorded her debut, which she had to finance the recording of herself, achieved by selling her car and pawning her wedding ring.
The sacrifices paid off though; Midwest Farmer’s Daughter’s already being talked about as one of ‘the’ albums of 2016.
But success isn’t entirely what Price imagined; she admits that while she is now travelling a lot, she rarely gets to explore any of the cities she playing in, and has been away from home for much of the year.
“There’s a Keith Whitley song that goes, ‘It’s lonely at the top, but it’s a bitch at the bottom’, so I can definitely identify with that at the minute. But then there’s a country song for every occasion,” she reflects.
As for how she feels about finding recognition a little later down the line (if you can call early-30s late down the line), Price says it’s a case of “better late than never”, and it may even mean she’s better prepared for life in the spotlight.
“We’re still living in the same house, my husband and I share the car, I’m maintaining a fairly normal life, whatever that is,” says Price. “It’s been great this year... I’m very happy I can do this, because everyone told me it was an impossibility.
“And staying in Nashville, my feet are going to be kept on the ground. Nashville is not the sort of place you can get away with diva behaviour. Bad news travels very fast.”
She’s hoping to start working on her second album soon, once she’s toured the UK once more.
“I can’t wait to get working on my next album, hopefully that will happen in the autumn. Things are going well, new songs are sounding good,”adds Price. “But the best thing is, I won’t have to sell a car or a wedding ring to afford it.”
l Margo Price’s album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is out now. She tours the UK throughout August and plays End of the Road festival in September. Visit margoprice.net.